71.Regional Schools Commissioners are each supported by a Headteacher Board (HTB) of six to eight members. The DfE told us that these Boards were “primarily responsible for advising their RSC, contributing their local knowledge and professional expertise to aid the RSC’s decision-making”. Several of the RSCs offered descriptions of the role which match this statement; Dominic Herrington (RSC, South East England and South London) told us that HTBs were “allowing all the decisions we are making to be much nearer to the ground and much more sensible”, and Pank Patel (RSC, West Midlands) told us that “They can provide the reconnaissance and they can provide the expertise. They can also provide the challenge. It is a very varied role and remit that they have”. Some RSCs had also sought input from their HTB on the development of a strategy for the region.
72.However, it was evident during the inquiry that there was some confusion as to whether it was intended that HTBs should provide a form of local accountability for RSCs, and a corresponding lack of clarity as to whether the HTB was a decision-making body itself, or purely the provider of advice to inform the decisions of the RSC. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services told us that “The balance of power and influence between the RSCs and their HTBs is unclear, yet the dynamic between the two is at the heart of this governance system”. Similarly, NASUWT noted that “It is not clear whether HTBs’ principal function is limited to advising RSCs or to take a more active role in decision-making”.
73.The preferred remit for Boards varied amongst witnesses. Russell Hobby saw three functions for the HTBs:
One is to hold [RSCs] to account and challenge them to be doing the best thing. A second one is to provide legitimacy, and that is their elected function to say, “This is the system itself taking responsibility”[…] The third one is to provide intelligence and ideas. These are people who, if the territory is of the right size, should be able to know a lot about what is going on […] If they can provide those three main functions I think that would be helpful.
Meanwhile, Jon Coles said that “If they were called, “The Heads Advisory Group to the RSC” I think […] most of your worries about transparency and the accountability of the Headteacher Boards would go away, but in practice I think that is what they are […]. They are effectively a non-executive advisory board”.
74.We asked Lord Nash to clarify whether the role of the Headteacher Board was to provide a local accountability structure, or a scrutiny mechanism for RSCs, and he told us that it was both of these things. He also described the HTBs as “approving” RSC decisions rather than merely advising on them. This leaves us with a confused picture. The ambiguity underlines a comment from Emma Knights that “the role needs to be written down. There is a lot of information saying what the RSCs do, there is very, very little saying what the HTBs do”.
75.The DfE explained that the membership of each Headteacher Board comprises a mixture of six to eight elected, appointed and co-opted individuals.
76.Four members are elected by academy headteachers in their region. In order to stand for election, headteachers must “be currently serving or have recently served (within two years of the election date) as a headteacher of an academy rated by Ofsted as either good or outstanding overall with outstanding leadership and management”.
77.Russell Hobby noted that restricting elections to the Board to academy headteachers would start to look “increasingly unfair” as the remit of RSCs extended further to LA-maintained schools, and other witnesses called for the membership to widened, including for instance to college principals. This point will be particularly pertinent given the intention to allow sixth form colleges to become academies.
78.Emma Knights was critical of the fact that at least half of the membership of each Board was elected, and drew a further comparison with the trend in school governing boards: “all the work we are doing with the Department around governing boards is about skills, skills, skills. There are now very few elected members left on governing boards and the Department is looking again as to whether we should remove even that minority that are left”. Other witnesses were more supportive of this element. Pamela Birch, a member of the HTB for the Lancashire and West Yorkshire region, said that “in order to get a school-led system on board with Regional Schools Commissioners, I think that you have to have an element of that Headteacher Board elected […] I don’t think that heads up and down the country are going to accept a system where people are just put on boards rather than being elected […] I would never take away the elected aspect of it because otherwise you will immediately alienate a lot of heads”.
79.After the initial elections, additional members are subsequently appointed by the RSCs on behalf of the Secretary of State “to help fill any gaps in local knowledge or particular expertise”. The DfE told us that appointed members were “predominantly headteachers of outstanding academies who have strong credibility with the sector”, but that “some RSCs have also chosen to appoint Board members from the business sector to bring additional skills”.
80.However, Emma Knights was concerned that this process did not match the high standards expected for school governing boards: “Normal process for good board recruitment would be that you would have a role specification, then you would recruit to that role specification and you would interview candidates against that spec. […] I would have wanted to see a list of knowledge and skills that were needed on those boards and to make sure that in every single region they were filled”.
81.Additionally, where the Headteacher Board itself believes there is a need to bring additional skills or expertise, it may apply to ministers for permission to co-opt further members, by “explaining what skills or local knowledge they are seeking to bring in and how co-optees will address these needs”.
82.All HTB members are expected to commit to between two and four days per month for HTB work, for a maximum of 46 weeks per year. United Learning warned us that there was a “distinct possibility” of system leaders such as members of the HTB “overstretching themselves and risking the success they have achieved in their own school or schools”. This was also reflected in our conversations with members of the West Midlands HTB, who found that as a result of their higher profile and increasing expertise they were being called upon directly by schools in need of support to provide advice on school improvement. This underlines the importance of a good supply of system leaders able to fulfil these roles, including as Board members.
83.There is currently confusion about the role of the Headteacher Boards, including whether they are decision-making bodies or purely a source of advice for the RSC. The Department for Education must clarify this, as it is a crucial component of ensuring there is suitable accountability for decisions made. We recommend that the Boards be re-designated as RSC Advisory Boards, to make it clear that the role of the Board is to provide advice to inform RSC decisions, rather than a mechanism for local accountability or to make decisions itself. The re-designation would also make clear that membership is not restricted to headteachers, given the existing scope for appointments and co-options.
84.The ‘mixed economy’ of elected and appointed members of the Headteacher Board should be retained. However the Government must ensure that the guidelines on making and managing public appointments are followed; RSCs should develop an explicit skills profile when recruiting individuals to appoint or co-opt to the Board, and use this to identify candidates. If the remit of the RSCs expands in the way proposed in the Education and Adoption Bill, headteachers of similarly high-performing LA-maintained schools should be eligible for election, appointment or co-option in the same way as academy heads, and should be able to vote in Board member elections.
85.The DfE told us that all members of the Headteacher Board were appointed in September 2014 with a maximum three-year term, albeit with the potential for shorter terms for co-opted members “depending on the circumstances and the agreement reached between the parties”. Headteachers that we spoke to in Coventry were concerned that there could potentially be a large turnover in the membership of HTBs in September 2017, with a consequential loss of expertise built up during this period. Lord Nash agreed that “we obviously would not want to lose all that expertise in one go […] Some may stay, we may appoint some new people earlier, but we have that very much in mind”.
133 Department for Education () para 16
134 Department for Education () para 14
143 Department for Education () paras 6–10
145 Association of Colleges () para 1
150 Department for Education () para 10
151 Department for Education (RSC 43) para 8
152 United Learning ()
153 Department for Education () para 9
Prepared 18 January 2016